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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Inscribe Us in the Book of Life


At this time of year, we ask the Almighty to inscribe us in the Book of Life. It is a powerful image.


Imagine then my reaction to being asked if I would write a letter for someone saying that there was a Jewish religious rationale for not getting the Covid-19 vaccine. If anything there is a Jewish mandate to get the vaccine. Long ago the Torah commanded us Uvachartah Bachayim, you shall choose life. Given the greater odds of getting the virus and the still greater odds of having a serious case with potentially lingering consequences—for example, there are many who have had the disease but have yet to fully regain their sense of taste and/or smell--, let alone the higher mortality rates, if one is not vaccinated, I would assert that it is a mitzvah to be vaccinated unless there is a clear medical reason not to have the injections. I said no.


That took place on Monday. That evening I was on a zoom call, along with some 300 other people, listening to a presentation by an organization called Renewal. The organization seeks to link up those in need of a kidney with a living donor. The call was in support of someone I have known since we used to sit together at services in Temple Israel nearly half a century ago. Given that his blood type is A, there is a large potential population who might be in a position to donate a kidney. (Those with type O are also eligible.) I am not asking you to donate. (By the way, to-date, the organization’s oldest donor was 77. One must be at least 21 to donate and even then, it is discouraged.) I am, however, requesting you to mention the need to friends and associates. Who knows if someone out there might be willing to undergo this life-saving procedure? For further information, check out their web site:


Wishing you an easy fast and a meaningful Yom Kippur. And may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.






Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel


Are You Ready for a Robotaxi?


A year and a half ago, on our last visit to Israel, as part of the Conference of Presidents mission, we journeyed to the outskirts of Jerusalem and visited Mobileye, a subsidiary of Intel. We were introduced to cutting edge technology: a self-driving vehicle. Although we did get to see the sophisticated sensor system in one of its vehicles, we didn’t get to ride in one.


Last week, Mobileye unveiled a new robotaxi. Using the Chinese Nio E58, an all-electric 6 passenger SUV, the Mobileye is the first production autonomous vehicle fitted with the company’s self-driving system. It is called Mobileye Drive and it’s a Level 4 autonomous system, which means it doesn’t require human interaction in the vast majority of situations. The car has 13 cameras, plus three long-range lidar sensors, as well as 6 short-range arrays and for good measure a half dozen radar units. The various detection systems are integrated through the company’s EyeQ 5 system, on chip integrated circuits.


In 2022, the Mobileye AV will be out on the streets of Tel Aviv and Munich, testing the system. During the testing period, drivers will monitor the vehicles as they operate autonomously. While German law currently allows these vehicles to drive themselves, regulations still require a human to be present to monitor everything.


Mobileye has partnered with rental car giant Sixt and the company’s AV will be included in Sixt’s One mobility platform. Logistically, the Israeli company will own the robotaxi fleet in Munich while will Sixt maintain it.


While the trials focus on taxis, Amnon Shashua, the CEO of Mobileye, believes that within a few years autonomous vehicles will be on sale to the general public. In the meantime, sometime next year, when hopefully when we can again travel safely, you might hail a robotaxi in Tel Aviv or Munich.






Payrush LaParshahah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The Torah reading for Yom Kippur (September 16th) is Leviticus 16:1-34)


16:7 Aaron shall take the two he-goats and let them stand before the Lord at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; (8) and he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel. (9) Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by lot for the Lord, which he is to offer as a purification offering; (10) while the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel.


...Who or what is Azazel? There have been three general approaches from antiquity to our day.


First, some see “Azazel” as a description of the goat (so the Septuagint and the Vulgate and English since the 16th century, scapegoat from “escape”). The Hebrew is understood as “the goat who went off,” reflected by the Mishnah. Alternatively, Azazel is a place name, roughly, “tough” (e.g. Yoma 67b, the Sifra), describing a mountain. The root would be azaz (Saadia, Ibn Janach), the term reflected in the Mishnaic (not Biblical) ceremony where the goat is pushed off a high precipice.


Third, and most fascinating is “Azazel” as the name of a demigod, power, demon or devil. Expected among modern Biblical critics, this view has roots in antiquity. In the Book of Enoch, Azazel is one of the demigods who mated with humans in Genesis 6 (and so too Midrash Pirkei of Rabbi Eliezer). Ibn Ezra saw fit only to hint at this interpretation, saying that “the truth in this matter is a mystery,” one which could be understood “when one reaches 33.” Nachmandies saw fit to explain—33 verses hence is a warning not to sacrifice to goats—Azazel is one of the desert pagan gods! Nahcmanides calls them angels. “Azazel” is here read as metathesis for azz-el, which is indeed the spelling in the Book of Enoch.


If this last interpretation is correct, our texts near syncretism of pagan and Jewish religions is indeed worthy of Ibn Ezra’s “mysterious mist.” However, apologists correctly point out several factors which limit and essentially empty the term’s pagan origin of its content. This “force” is not independent. It is not a counter balance to the one god, nor does it remain one among many gods. Rather it represents some sort of evil realm. Nor is the goat a sacrifice. Indeed, its effective function is to carry sins away in a symbolic manner, similar to other nations


Ceremonies transferring the “evil” or “plague” to some enemies’ camp. This is not propitiation of another god. Even if the term’s origin is pagan, the ceremony has been properly Judaized, placed in a monotheistic framework, a symbol more than an effective ceremony, an act whose essence has been transferred t the confession that precedes it. (Rabbi Benjamin J. Segal, “Azazel and Magic.” In Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, ed., Yom Kippur Readings: Inspiration, Information, Contemplation, pp.120-1. Rabbi Segal was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1969 and served a congregation in Palo Alto from 1969 to 1973. In 1973 he made Aliyah. For 19 years he served as the head of the Camp Ramah Programs in Israel. Subsequently, he was president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and later of Melitz, the Center of Jewish and Zionist Education. He has also served as chair of the Masorti Movement in Israel. He has published extensively in the field of biblical studies. In 2009, he produced, The Song of Songs: A Woman in Love. In 2013, his volume A New Psalm: A Guide to Psalms as Literature was published. In 2017, Kohelet, Pursuit of truth: A New Reading of Ecclesiastes was issued. And this year, in 2021, his latest volume was published: The Book of Ruth: Paradise Gained and Lost. In 1987, he produced for the World Zionist Organization Returning: The Land of Israel in Focus The volume was re-issued in 2005. He continues to lecture widely, including here in the United States.)






The portion of Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-52) is read this Saturday, September 18th.


32:1 Give ear, o heavens, let me speak; let the earth hear the words I utter.


These are Moses’ final words and the conclusion of the words of his Torah/teaching, which come to teach about the reality of the Name [God] and His unity. And it is said, “Give ear, o heavens, let me speak; let the earth hear the words I utter”—as already at the beginning of the Torah (Genesis 1:1) [it is written}: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth.” This was to explain to us in the beginning the reality of the Name by the way of innovation, in that it informs us that there was a beginning for heaven and earth, and they are renewed and that which is made new doesn’t renew itself. And this is the closest way in the obligation to make understandable the reality of the Blessed Name for the masses… And he wanted to say “Give ear, o heavens, and let the earth hear” that they should give their testimony and justify the words of Moses on the reality of the Blessed One. For, from the perpetual movement of the heavens and the natural ways of the earth, that they are of one judgment which doesn’t change, a wonder and a vision for the Blessed One about his reality and his unity. And this is what is said (32:3) “For the name of the Lord I proclaim: give glory to our God!” For the word “Havah” [Give] returns to the heavens and earth that have been mentioned… (Chayim [Howard] Kreisel, ed., Mah’asay Nissim: Payrush L’Torah L’R’ Nissim MeMarseilles [Miracle Works: A Commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Nissim of Marseilles] Rabbi Nissim was born in the 13th century and his philosophical commentary on the Torah was finished sometime after 1315. He draws heavily upon Abraham ibn Ezra and Maimonides, as well as Provencal scholars such as Samuel ibn Tibbon and Levi ben Avraham. His commentary provides naturalistic explanations for supernatural events in the Torah, such as the miracles in Egypt, the splitting of the Sea, and the longevity of the ancients. The work remained in manuscript for centuries and was first published in 2,000.)






Questions for Ha’azinu 5782 (Deuteronomy 32)


1.   In the first verse what is the function of heaven and earth?

2.   God is referred as “the Rock” in verse 4? Is this alternate name found anywhere else in the Torah? In the liturgy? In what key document of the state of Israel?

3.   In verse 6 the first letter, a Hey, is written large. Why?

4.   The Septuagint and a Qumran fragment of Deuteronomy read the end of verse 8 as L’mispar B’nay El, according to the number of the children of God /divine beings. Is this the better reading or is this an attempt to fix a difficult text?

5.   Where else other than in verse 11 do we encounter God functioning as an eagle?

6.   Does verse 13 prophetically hint of shale oil?

7.  Who is Jeshurun? What did it do to anger God and what was God’s response? Where does the name reappear?

8.   Where else, other than in verse 20, can one find the idea of Hastarat Panim, of God hiding His Face/Presence? How was the concept used by later theologians?

9.   Why will God not totally destroy Israel?

10.  What is the meaning of drinking from the vineyards of Gomorrah?

11.  In verse 39 there is the phrase “there is no god beside Me?” Is this an indication of a belief in monotheism or monolatry?

12.  A slight emendation of the penultimate word in verse 43 yields ud’ma’ot, meaning tears, providing us with the idea that God will wipe away His People’s tears. Is this preferable to “and cleanse the land of His people?”

13.  Where is Mount Nebo? Was it ever a pilgrimage site?

14.  What did God offer Moses that he didn’t offer Aaron?


Questions for the Haftorah (II Samuel 22:1-51)


  1. Why was this picked as the haftorah for this Shabbat?
  2. How many different ways does the passage speak of death?
  3. Verses 16-17 are an echo of what other biblical passage?
  4. What abilities accrue to the faithful servant of God?
  5. What suggests that this is a royal psalm?
  6. What is the difference between the two versions of the first word in the last sentence?


Tue, September 21 2021 15 Tishrei 5782